Gaming and hospitality giant Wynn Resorts’s subsidiary Wynn Design & Development has named an executive VP for the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This marks one of the first roles based in the emirates for the Las Vegas-based heavyweight, which is set to open a multibillion-dollar integrated resort development on the man-made Al Marjan Island in Ras Al Khaimah.
Derek Sands, a former Macau-market staffer, has been appointed to the role. The executive has already relocated to the UAE, according to his LinkedIn profile. Sands has been with Wynn Design & Development for eight years now, having started as building services director in Macau, working his way up to president of the Asian division in 2017.
Wynn Design & Development is the company’s creative arm, including interior design and project management. Sands’ appointment to the division comes as Wynn prepares for its major UAE project, whose current scope includes a 1,000-plus room hotel, high-end shopping mall, a state-of-the-art meeting and convention facility, a spa, more than 10 restaurants and lounges, a wide array of entertainment choices, a gaming area, and other amenities.
Wynn announced in January that it would be teaming with local developer Marjan Properties and hotel and leisure business operator RAK Hospitality Holding for the project. The $2 billion integrated resort is targeting 2026 as the opening date, and JP Morgan Securities said that same month it anticipated a management contract for Wynn lasting 20 years.
Wynn’s announcement of its proposed UAE resort was labeled as a watershed moment for the Gulf’s relationship with gaming, a region that has traditionally imposed stricter Islamic rules than other parts of the Middle East, with this industry long being off-limits. The Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA) is creating a division specifically for the regulation of “integrated resorts in the emirate,” under which the upcoming Wynn property is set to fall.
So far, what still remains fairly cloudy is how RAK will materialize the introduction of gambling. A likely scenario is the emirate will limit gambling to foreigners, in an effort to help drive tourism. The RAKTDA’s new division is set to “create a robust framework that will ensure responsible gaming at all levels,” a statement reads.
Wynn Resorts CEO Craig Billings said in an interview last month that the UAE project was “an amazing opportunity” for the company given the property’s opening would put 95% of the world’s population “within an eight-hour flight of the Wynn brand.”
“There has been tremendous modernization and progression in the UAE. The Dubai airport sees more than 80 million passengers a year. There’s an amazing amount of inbound visitation from Europe, the Middle East, India and other surrounding countries,” Billings told The Nevada Independent. “We believe there will be a robust cash-based business like we have here. We see it as a real extension of our brand.”
Wynn CEO Craig Billings The executive also discussed the importance of the project for the Gulf’s relationship with gaming, calling it a “limited supply market.” For the foreseeable future, Wynn is set to be the only gaming in that area.
“The leadership is very forward-thinking and Ras Al Khaimah is a very progressive and thoughtful place where they do things with intention,” Billings added. “We’re building on a portion of a man-made island and the rest of it is greenfield. There are plenty of opportunities to develop beyond that.”
At a call with investors in May, the company provided an update on the UAE project, with Wynn having moved into the design phase at the time. Given the country’s taste for modern and ambitious architecture, Billings said the company isn’t taking the issue lightly, with a substantial portion of his time being spent with the design and development team Sands has now joined.
“We want to make sure that we get the offering correct,” Billings said. “You have customers at adjacent hotels and you have customers from Dubai. We will have customers from all over the world.”